MEPS 168:135-145 (1998)  -  doi:10.3354/meps168135

Temporal variability in abundance of the sea urchins Paracentrotus lividus and Arbacia lixula in the northwestern Mediterranean: comparison between a marine reserve and an unprotected area

Enric Sala1,*, Marta Ribes2, Bernat Hereu1, Mikel Zabala1, Victor Alvà2, Rafel Coma2, Joaquim Garrabou1

1Departament d¹Ecologia, Facultat de Biologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Diagonal 645, E-08028 Barcelona, Spain
2Institut de Ciencies del Mar (CSIC), Passeig Joan de Borbó s/n, E-08039 Barcelona, Spain
*Present address and address for correspondence: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0201, USA. E-mail:

ABSTRACT: Sea urchin populations were monitored in the Medes Islands Marine Reserve (NW Mediterranean) and an adjacent unprotected area in order to (1) describe temporal variability in abundance and population size-structure of sea urchins within each area (from 1991 to 1997), and (2) to compare these areas to investigate the role of fish predation level in determining sea urchin population structure over time (from 1995 to 1997). Abundance of the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus (Lamarck) was monitored at 7 sites (4 inside and 3 outside the reserve), and 2 distinct habitats (fields of big boulders and vertical walls). P. lividus exhibited significant variability in density over time on boulders, both inside and outside the reserve, whereas its density did not vary significantly on vertical walls. P. lividus populations differed significantly in size-structure across sites, varying from unimodal to bimodal among sites and years. Density and mean size of P. lividus were not significantly different between the protected and the unprotected area in either of the 2 habitats. Abundance of the sea urchin Arbacia lixula (L.) was monitored from 1995 to 1997 on vertical walls and boulders (4 sites inside and 3 sites outside the reserve). Density of A. lixula differed significantly over time on boulders, but it did not on walls. On vertical walls, density and mean size of A. lixula were not significantly different between areas in both habitats. This study shows that in the Medes Islands region, sea urchins exhibit striking short-term fluctuations in abundance, which can lead to misinterpretation of larger-scale temporal patterns. The comparison between the protected and the unprotected area does not support the hypothesis of fish predation as the most important factor affecting P. lividus populations in the Medes Islands, as patterns of lower sea urchin density relative to the unprotected area nearby were not maintained over time. These facts indicate that factors other than fish predation are very important in determining sea urchin population structure in the northwestern Mediterranean.


KEY WORDS: Sea urchins · Temporal variability · Marine reserves · Fish predation · Mediterranean · Paracentrotus · Arbacia


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